Children counselled for eating disorders driven by mental health and body image worries | Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
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Children counselled for eating disorders driven by mental health and body image worries

Body image concerns and mental health difficulties are fuelling a rise in the number of young people contacting Childline about eating disorders, new NSPCC figures reveal today.

Childline, the service provided by the NSPCC, carried out 5,934 counselling sessions across the UK about eating disorders and eating problems – the equivalent to 16 a day – with children in 2017/18, up 22 per cent since 2016/17. 

Childline counsellors dealt with 231 contacts from young people in Scotland about eating disorders and eating problems during the same period. 

Almost nine in every ten counselling sessions across the UK were with girls, including 148 counselling sessions with girls aged 10-11.  Nearly one in six counselling sessions about eating problems mentioned anorexia, while one in ten mentioned bulimia, and almost a third mentioned negative or distorted body image.1   

One in four counselling sessions were about avoiding certain foods or restricting food intake, raising fears that these children could go on to develop anorexia or bulimia if they did not receive early help and support.  

In addition, thousands of children contacting Childline about other mental health issues including suicidal feelings and self-harm also talked about eating disorders or eating problems, bringing the total number of counselling sessions where eating disorders or eating problems were mentioned in 2017/18 to 11,752.  

The NSPCC’s Are You There? campaign is calling on the UK Government to invest some of the £300million it has committed for children’s mental health services towards early support services such as Childline. 

One 15-year-old girl told Childline: 

“I compare myself to other people every day and how they have a better figure to me.  I noticed that I was slightly bigger than some of the girls in my school and seeing people on social media didn’t help either.  It has led to me watching weight loss videos and saving pictures of people who have the body I wish I had.  At one point I was watching and comparing myself to people who have anorexia.  I have tried starving myself and exercising so that I can become skinny all over.  I feel like the odd one out and that everywhere I go I am being looked at and judged.” 

Leanne Ferries, Childline manager for the Aberdeen base said:   

“Young people tell us that they feel under pressure to look a certain way and live a certain life, and it’s worrying that we are seeing so many children contact us about eating disorders as a result, in some cases when they are still at primary school. 

“It’s crucial that all those struggling with such debilitating eating problems are given all the help they need to make a full recovery so that they can go on to enjoy their childhood and teenage years to the full. 

“The starting point on that journey is to open up and talk to someone who can listen without judgement, which is why Childline is such a crucial service for these thousands of children.” 

Dame Esther Rantzen, Childline Founder and President said:  

“Eating disorders are dangerous, and can be lethal.   Families are left watching helplessly as their children’s lives are put at risk, and it is crucial that these young people receive effective help.    

“And we must ask ourselves the reason for this dangerous increase?   Perhaps it is because an obsession with body shape has been created, forcing young people to try to be as skinny as the unnaturally photoshopped images in the media.   The fashion and beauty industries must also be aware of the vulnerable young people who aspire to what they see on social media. 

“Childline is there for these young people, and we offer support which we hope will enable them to recover and go on to live healthy lives.   But at the moment we can only answer three out of four young people who turn to us for help, so we need funds so that we can expand our service to meet the demand.    

“In addition, the help we provide must be supplemented by mental health professionals, and we know how difficult it is for young people and families to access the counselling when they desperately need it.”   

Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk

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